Friday, 28 December 2018

Adventuring Through: Freja and the False Prophecy Kickstarter Demo

I got to play the demo of Freja and the False Prophecy, which is currently under development at Unsigned Double Collective, and can be backed at its Kickstarter campaign page until about 2 PM on 1 January 2019. I downloaded the demo from the link on the Kickstarter campaign page.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have backed the game, so take that as you will. I am not being paid to promote or preview this game, but I am friends with Lasse Manson, the game's developer, and am slightly acquainted with Romy Latter, its creative director. However, I will try to make this preview as unbiased as possible, in the interests of helping you to decide whether or not to back the game on Kickstarter or perhaps purchase it at a later date. This preview may be based on an outdated version of the demo, so please bear that in mind before you make up your mind.

The demo started off with Freja injured for some unknown reason. This meant her movement and attack abilities were locked until a few non-intrusive tutorials had been displayed. Once I had full control over, she proved to be a nimble yet powerful fighter, with a powerful axe and a rather handy "Spirit Sight" ability, which allowed her to see invisible platforms in an eerie glowing whitish purple colour, accompanied by some equally eerie vocals and music.

Looks like poor Freja drank some bone-hurting juice.

I progressed through the demo until I came to a boss fight, which creamed me. I will refrain from spoiling the names of the two bosses involved in this fight, but suffice to say, it served as a difficulty spike that felt like a bucket of cold water had been thrown onto me. I trust that it will be balanced so as to not be so punishing for Story Mode players, at least.

In terms of the difficulty of the rest of the demo, I only died a few times, mostly due to my own carelessness, i.e. rushing in to facetank enemies or failing to notice a pit of nasty-looking thorns and falling into it. Knowledge and experience in game design and development are evident even in this rudimentary demo: unobtrusive interface, responsive yet satisfying controls, and difficulty that never feels cheap or a waste of time. The artwork is relatively simple yet pleasing to behold, and Freja's character design is simply perfect. I personally would prefer for Freja's sprite to be a tad bigger, mainly so I could see the details on her clothing and face, but this is a minor niggle. Voice-acting would nice, although not a dealbreaker for me.

This kind of thing is why I dislike spiders. Better her than me.
Overall, I closed the demo feeling some contentment, albeit mixed with frustration at not being able to beat the boss fight. It's a good enough taste of the game to justify pledging money towards it. I want to see this game succeed and fulfil the Kickstarter campaign's promises, especially as there are hardly any South African game developers, and the industry needs to grow and provide some much needed diversity of characters, stories and gameplay.

HYPE LEVEL: MILDLY AROUSED


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Friday, 16 February 2018

Zwei: The Arges Adventure - Review

Whoo buoy, here we go again

DEVELOPER:
PLATFORMS:  GOG
                          Steam

DISCLAIMER: XSEED did not provide me with a free review copy or any financial incentives to review this game. My opinions are my own and I am not directly affiliated with XSEED or the game's original developer, Nihon Falcom, in any way.

Good day fellow adventurers! Having played Zwei: The Arges Adventure for +/- three hours, I am in the process of recording my thoughts about this lovely little game in the form of a review-in-progress, with a full review to follow once I've beaten the game. Hopefully this will give you some idea of the mechanics and general vibe. Let's start the adventure!

UPDATE: After +-44 hours of laughing, raging and grinding my way through this game, I have finally beaten the final boss, and hummed along to the jaunty ending credits music. Check out the rest of this review for my thoughts!

Visuals

This game is draped in beautiful, hand-drawn chibi sprites and watercolour-style backgrounds, combined with lovely old-school anime cutscenes and images (see the tutorial screenshot for an example). There is some minor pixelation here and there, and the 3D models of the bosses look pretty low-poly, with muddy textures, but that's pretty much to be expected of a game originally released in 2001, although XSEED have done a valiant job of updating the visuals for 2018's standards, e.g. with widescreen support and higher resolutions available.

Visuals Score: 77% (Hey, that's pretty good!)

XSEED have lightly garnished the game with a meme here and there. Oh, you!

Audio

From the lively yet stirring score that accompanies the game's anime intro video, to the toe-tapping melody of Puck Village, the hometown of the MCs, Pipiro and Pokkle, I have been thoroughly taken in by the games musical charms so far. The sound effects aren't anything to write home about, and the combat lacks a lot of the oomph of Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection as a result of the lacklustre sound effects. Overall, though, I wasn't too bothered, as I was too busy jamming along to the dank tunes on offer.

Audio Score: 74% (Mildly spicy)

Story & Dialogue

Pipiro, the Queen of Shade-Throwing, at it again.
The story is shaping up to be another fairly standard "save the world" plot, but the tongue-in-cheek humour, peppered with copious puns (that mainly spew from Pokkle's mouth) help to liven it up. XSEED's localisation also appears to be up to their usual standard (i.e. excellent), with every line of dialogue and every description sounding perfectly natural thus far. The almost constant stream of puns and American slang throughout the dialogue (mostly from Pokkle and Pipiro's banter) gets a bit tiresome, and even a bit jarring at times, but it's not a deal-breaker by any means. This is probably one of the most light-hearted stories to be found out of any Falcom game, so don't go in looking for soul-crushing tragedy or profound philosophy, and you'll probably have a grand time.

Story & Dialogue score: 71% (Light and fluffy)

Gameplay

The gameplay falls very much in line with standard action-RPG fare, although of course, as this is the predecessor to Zwei: II, there is the twist in the form of chowing food down to gain experience in addition to the standard function of healing HP - eating is the only way to gain experience in this game, actually! Thus the player is faced with chowing food as needed in order to avoid getting wrecked by the rather brutal enemies, or saving up ten of each food in order to exchange it for a richer, fancier, and thus more experience-bestowing food at the local bar/restaurant in Puck Village. This leads to flexibility in levelling up as compared to other systems - although players who struggle to dodge enemy attacks well and judge whether or not to fight or run from particularly dangerous foes will find themselves quickly depleting their food supplies. I know I have, multiple times! I have the feeling that things will eventually smooth out a little as I progress - at least, I hope so!

After struggling through most of the boss battles, which are more a test of endurance and resource management than skill and strategy, the gameplay is unfortunately the weakest link due to them, not to mention the simplistic, slightly unsatisfying combat, and the basic bitch dungeon layout (although the last few dungeons do get a bit more interesting). Full disclosure: I'm not the most persistent or skilful gamer, so there were times when I felt like giving up on the game in absolute despair at the boss battles. It was only through sheer bloody mindedness and enjoyment of the game's aesthetics and charm that I managed to push through to the very end, although I still have post-game to tackle!

The mini-games do spice up things somewhat, although I found them too unforgiving (even on "Easy" mode) to be enjoyable for more than a few minutes, particularly The Typing of Ys, which left my wrists and fingers aching by the time I reached the last level (which I STILL haven't cleared, grrr).

Gameplay Score: 59% (Note to Falcom: do better next time ;))

So that wraps up this review! My conclusion: if you can tolerate some frustration and challenge in exchange for charming music, humour and graphics, then run out and buy this game from Steam or GOG, preferably on sale.

FINAL SCORE: 70% (GOOD - NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS)




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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My Most Anticipated Games of 2018


There are plenty of great JRPGs, WRPGs and adventure games slated to come out this year. I'm going to list off the ones I'm personally anticipating the most, and why.

Zwei: The Arges Adventure (Steam & GOG)


Hnnngh, so close to release! No pre-order XSEED? Y tho? Day One purchase for me, though, given my love for its sequel, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. The graphical style looks even MORE charming, the characters look even funnier, and XSEED are really going the extra mile to integrate and in some cases even improve on the little mini games and apps within the game. Buy this. Do eet.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (Steam)

Yes, I know, NISA dun goofed with this, particularly when it comes to the PC release, but even they can't ruin what looks like another grand action RPG from Falcom - right? I loved Ys VII and what I played of Ys Origin, so NISA's fuckery hasn't killed my hype for this game just yet.



The Wolf Among Us: Season 2 (PC?)

I don't know much about this, but what I DO know is that I absolutely adored the first season of The Wolf Among Us (and not only because Mr Bigby Wolf is pretty hawt). The first season brilliantly adapted the characters of Fabletown and replicated the vibe of the half fairytale, half urbanised city in game form pretty much perfectly,while giving alternately tragic and hilarious backstory to Bigby and Snow White, amongst many other characters.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (Nintendo 3DS)

This was pretty much my jumping off point into the darkly weird and wonderful SMT franchise when it originally released for the Nintendo DS, and goodness what a jumping point! Sure, the integration of the alignment system into the battle system was kind of wacky (and a smidge unfair), and the difficulty was often cheap, but the story was a provocative look into the worst excesses of the human psyche, manifested as various surreal dungeons, and filled with the shocking,often gory moments that have become a hallmark of the SMT games. It is unfortunate, not to mention absurd, that Atlus has refused to provide an English dub for a game with characters of all nationalities and ethnicities, but it is hardly a deal breaker, and the extras - touched up graphics, a new route, a new character, a new dungeon, and new difficulties - make this pretty much an irresistible proposition for a JRPG whore such as myself.

Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition (Steam)

As controversial as the original release of this game was, Hajime Tabata and his team at Square-Enix do deserve credit for striving to expand on both the narrative and the game mechanics. The game also has some top-tier husbando material in the form of Ignis and Gladiolus, what can I say? I'm looking forward to experiencing this in glorious HD, remastered lighting and effects and all - no 4K for me thanks, 100 GB is going to be killer on both my HDD and internet connection, never mind 155 GB! Whether it is ultimately deemed as an abject failure or a legendary opus magnum by critical and popular consensus, one thing still remains true - a mainline Final Fantasy game is not to be ignored.

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Thursday, 18 January 2018

Games of 2017 That Deserve More Love




During the course of 2017, I played many games (mainly RPGs) that were excellent in their own right, but perhaps have not received the attention that they deserve. I'm going to list off a few, in no particular order, and why they deserve more love.

Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection

An action RPG from Falcom that oozes charm from every pore, particularly in the visual and audio departments, aided greatly by XSEED's sterling localisation. The characters and environments are styled in vibrant anime fashion, and the music ranges from earworm town tunes to atmospheric and sometimes even moving ballads. The visuals and sound effects that accompany every blow the main characters (Ragna Valentine and Alwen du Moonbria) strike make combat particularly satisfying, even if it isn't particularly complicated, and the food system that is used to level up the MCs is inventive and flexible. Zwei: II can be bought from GOG or Steam.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd

A follow-up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC and SC, this instalment stars a new protagonist, Kevin Graham, who is working for the Septian Church as a Dominion, recovering dangerous sacred artifacts from the likes of Ouroboros, and punishing heretics on behalf of the Church. It can technically be enjoyed on its own but is mainly aimed at fans of the previous two games, as it follows up on the stories of the main and side protagonists from those games, as well as fleshing out the background of some characters. At turns heartbreaking and achingly beautiful in both narrative and music, this is a deep delve into Kevin's psyche as he strives to escape the realm of Phantasma together with Ries Argent, a colleague of his, and uncover the mysteries behind Phantasma's creation and who trapped them there. Yet another excellent JRPG from Falcom, with a wonderful localisation from XSEED, this gem can be bought from GOG or Steam.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

A visual novel cum murder mystery set in a deadly killing game that takes place at a school that has been taken over by the psychotic bear Monokuma and his Monokubs, this is an incredibly stylish and darkly disturbing game from Spike Chunsoft, developers of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and localised with proficiency by NIS America, although certain parts of the localisation, such as Gonta's dialogue, could be better. Nonetheless, Danganronpa V3 delivers a wild ride, with a very controversial but also thought-provoking and challenging ending. It can be bought on Steam, PS Vita or PS4.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Perhaps not quite the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment that it was claimed or expected to be, this western RPG from inXile Entertainment is nevertheless a worthwhile journey that asks, "What does one life matter?" and answers it in insightful, sometimes surprising ways. The production values aren't stellar and the characters could have done with more depth and development, but the environments that I encountered along the way, such as the Maw (basically an organic, gigantic sentient being that devours souls and has people living in it) are mostly artfully constructed and full of side quests and nooks and crannies. The "Effort" mechanic that involves deciding how much effort (represented by points) you want your main character to put into any activity, whether it is in combat or dialogue, adds an interesting twist, even if it doesn't always make a noticeable difference to the outcome of events. Keep your expectations in check (this is a Kickstarter game after all), and you might find yourself enjoying this little RPG with a lot of heart. It can be bought on Steam or GOG.

Honourable Mentions

Miitopia

A thoroughly weird and often amusing JRPG from Nintendo starring the Miis, the virtual avatars that used to be the stars of the Wii, Wii U and 3DS. You get to create Miis or choose from your own or others' Mii collections to star as playable characters in your party and as NPCs, leading to some downright outlandish results, especially if you opt to let the game randomly choose the Miis. The dungeon crawling is very basic and pretty much on-rails, other than allowing you to choose which path to take your party down. Random events and traps spice up the dungeons though, providing humorous moments which sometimes affect your party or their relationships. Your party's relationships are also a big part of the game, leading to various gameplay bonuses as their relationship levels increase, depending on who you pair them up with. It all wears a little thin towards the end of the game as events start repeating and the relationships all follow the same track, other than the occasional quarrel. I still found it to be a relaxing and charming experience, with some pretty great tunes to accompany it. It can be bought for Nintendo 3DS.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf - Welcome Amiibo

Why, oh why, did I not get this game earlier? Yes, I know, it wasn't released in 2017, but that's when I bought it, and it's an honourable mention, so shush mmkay? Anyway, this chilled and expansive life sim from Nintendo starring a human (played by you) in a village full of animals is an experience that has brought me new experiences and surprises pretty much every time I fire it up, from an oceanic encounter with an otter whose hippie-ish catchphrase "Maaan" cracks me up a little when I read it, to the pleasures of sipping and serving coffee at The Roost with Brewster the pigeon. The Welcome Amiibo update added quite a chunk of content, including the camp-ground, which is run by a hippie dog called Harvey, and brings in many new interesting faces and items. The only pity is that the DLC is no longer in circulation, but this instalment of the cult AC franchise is still quite possibly the best yet, and well worth getting on Nintendo 3DS.



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Monday, 4 December 2017

Adventuring Through Impressions - Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Digital Deluxe - Head Start



These impressions are based on roughly an hour's time with the latest version (as of writing) of Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Digital Deluxe - Head Start (which is basically a beta version available to those who pre-order). Check out my thoughts after the jump!


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Shin Megami Tensei IV Doesn't Do Much With Its Titular Character


Shin Megami Tensei IV is a dark, intense and atmospheric Japanese role-playing game set in two realms in a post-apocalyptic Japan (I won't spoil their names, just know that they are quite different). The occasionally fierce battles that can be waged with demons, and the tense exploration of ruined areas and surreal dungeons, reinforce the atmosphere expertly, along with the catchy yet sometimes disturbing background music.

However, the game's story fails to give the player a valid narrative reason to be doing what they are told to do in certain areas, by undermining the plot points and objectives it presents with a lack of characterization and by contradicting its earlier themes and messages.

MILD SPOILER WARNING: From here on in, this post contains opinions and information that may spoil the events of Shin Megami Tensei IV for new players or players that have not played certain routes.

Sometimes, You Need a Break From Your Adventure


Hello, fellow adventurers. I know I've been quiet for a long time. The truth is, other things - work, family, friends, and other ventures pop up. Burnout is also a factor - it can happen with any hobby or interest.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Japanese Role-Playing Games That NEED PC Ports





Disclaimer: I'm not a PC Master Race douchebag.

As of late, the PC market for JRPGs has picked up considerably, with the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and X/X-2 HD remasters expanding it even further. However, there are still some glaring gaps in the JRPG library on PC. I will be listing a few, and giving my reasons for doing so.


  1. Final Fantasy - this is probably the most obvious candidate, and yet for some reason, Square-Enix STILL hasn't gotten around to porting this milestone JRPG over to PC. Granted, it has not aged well, but that's all the more reason for a nice HD remaster in the vein of Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection (yes, I know that's also not on PC!).
  2. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King - now you may be asking, why not Dragon Quest I? Well, firstly, the Dragon Quest series is still relatively niche, and secondly, DQVIII is one of the best received and best-selling DQ titles in the entire series, so it makes too much sense for SE to bring it over, particularly as they have proven more than capable of doing HD remasters - just look at the grand job they did with FFX/FFX-2 HD Remaster!
  3. Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl - yes, yes I KNOW, this is a dual screen game! But just think about it - the 3DS is dying a slow, drawn-out death, and Nintendo has no plans for a dual-screen successor. Where else is the series going to go? Plus, dual monitor setups are a thing, so theoretically, one screen could be devoted to the first-person view, and another, perhaps a touch screen, could be used for the map! Alternatively, the map could be relegated to a (free) phone or tablet app. Just think of all the Wizardry and Might & Magic fans chomping at the bit to play this gem!
  4. Persona 5 - another obvious choice, I know, but probably the most commercially viable, due to the fact that it was released a mere four months ago, and the PS4 version probably wouldn't be a massive hassle. The sheer amount of buzz in the emulation community surrounding this game should be enough of a clue of the thirst for this game to ATLUS, who seem determined to keep their heads buried in the sand.
  5. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch - with the sequel coming out in less than a year, why not do a cheap and dirty port to keep fans' thirst temporarily sated? This JRPG has its issues, mostly with the combat, but it is still an incredibly charming and sweet game that deserves a larger audience.

So, that's my wishlist! Do you know any console-exclusive JRPGs that you would love to see PC ports for? Comment below with your thoughts!


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